We’ve all felt a sense of isolation at some point in our lives, in need of a hug, a kind word or even a smile.
Companionship can make the world of difference to someone who feels cut off from society and that nobody cares.
Vulnerable people such as those with learning or physical disabilities have made new friends and been given a sense of belonging through the dedication of volunteers in Chesterfield.
The ecumenical group Faith and Light has provided support for 30 years through church services, outings and meals.
Susan Hunt, who joined the Chesterfield branch of the international organistion in its early years, said: “The group offered a feeling of belonging. People could be accepted as they were, as equals. It was embedded in a deep respect for each other and that no-one was superior to anyone else.
“There were no demands made or expectations. It was an opportunity for a mutual exchange of lives which enhanced all people’s lives. There was no veneer, everything was honest, straightforward and basic.
“You learn a lot from people with learning difficulties - they have taught me a terrific amount about what Christianity is, what love is.
“We even had a marriage; Brian and Ada Cashin who lived in Staveley and were in their sixties. They met, married and lived happily ever after until death did them part.”
The Chesterfield branch of Faith and Light was formed by worshippers at the Church of the Annunciation. Susan found out about the group from a mum while waiting at Ashgate Croft School for her youngest daughter Frances to finish lessons 29 years ago.
Frances, who is now 37, is among those who have benefited from the companionship offered by Faith and Light. She said: “I enjoyed mixing with others and helping to lead the songs.”
Her dad is Father Edwin Hunt, rector of the Orthodox Church of St Cuthbert in Chesterfield, which congregates at the Eyre Chapel. He led Faith and Light for 16 years, working with Fr Terry Tolan and Fr David Truby to conduct services in Anglican, Roman Catholic and free churches on a rotational basis. He said: “There were action songs which everyone took part in and passing of the peace where everyone hugged everyone else which was essential physical contact in a controlled environment.
“After I left there was no-one to take over and the other priests moved to other parishes.”
The group’s co-ordinator Patricia Berritta, secretary of the Gospel Mission Congregational Church Chris Townsend, and a volunteer driver kept the group going until a few weeks ago when a final service of celebration was held. Chris said: “We have been pleased to host annual Faith and Light services at The Gospel Mission for around 25 years.
“During that time it has been wonderful to witness the beneficial effect that Faith and Light has had on the intellectually disabled. Those who have had held office in Faith and Light have done a marvellous job over the years.”
Patricia said: “The thing that I enjoyed about the group was the love shown to everyone.”
When Susan Hunt first joined Faith and Light, worship services would be attended by about 40 people.
She said: “There were people with physical and learning disabilities, friends and families. People would come from hostels so the bus would pick them up. It was when people moved into independent living that they got a little bit lost by the wayside because support workers were not always into it.
“People were elderly and they died and that’s gradually how the group diminished.”
Chris said: “I hope and pray that there may be others amongst Derbyshire Times readers, belonging to churches in Chesterfield and district, who will be willing to step forward and help form a new Faith and Light group. The Gospel Mission Church will support in whatever way possible.”
Patricia said: “I would love there to be another group with someone younger to help.”
With that aim in mind, a rallying call has gone out to the community for young volunteers to steer the group and those who feel isolated to be part of it.
Father Edwin said: “It needs someone young with some energy to lead it and it needs someone who can drive too.”
Susan said: “A new group would start together, people wouldn’t be coming into a pre-formed set-up.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer their services or join the group should call Susan on 01246 275141 or email@example.com or Patricia on 01246 231760.